Are you PLAYING the Sax or Fighting it?
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You can easily learn bad habits in music
Other people may understand you when you speak a language, but there is something ‘off’ about how you speak.
Likewise, you can sound decent on the saxophone despite having bad habits. But those bad habits can hold you back and cause frustration. You will definitely sound better if you have good technique.
Having examples to follow is important, which involves listening intently to music. Getting feedback and following a systematic approach also helps. As a teacher, I reduce frustration and wasted time.
Why do you play the saxophone?
Saxophone players often play saxophone because they want to:
1. Entertain their friends and family
2. Sound like their favorite saxophone players
3. Play in a band
But it isn’t easy, is it?
Sometimes people believe that saxophones are easy to play.
In reality, it can be a struggle to get a sound out of the saxophone, let alone a good tone! The saxophone is easy to play badly—and very challenging to play well.
It’s simple to move between some notes, it’s much more challenging in others. It helps a lot to have a structured system to start with on saxophone.
Saxophone players often start to play music in school. But many also start or restart on their own later in life.
Without feedback, it’s easy to learn inefficient technique. You can practice playing badly just as easily as you can practice good playing. Either one can become habit.
Much of the technique comes down to finger control, which is something that needs to be developed.
Getting feedback and practicing systematically will help you sound better with much less frustration and in less time.
By working on music in a sequential way, you can master small steps and then build upon what you’ve learned.
Imagine that you go to Brazil to learn Portuguese.
And you really want to learn how to speak well!
In the first week, would you only spend one day practicing?
Would you completely avoid speaking for the rest of the week? You would find a bunch of people from your own country and hide out with them in order to avoid Brazilians for the other six days?
Would you learn the language quickly that way?
Do you think you would learn some things and then begin to forget them over the next six days until you practiced again?
Why I teach saxophone
People have said that learning music is much like learning a language, some even consider music to be a language.
Language allows you to express yourself. It transcends culture. Music makes it possible to share feelings and emotions with people across the world.
I studied physics in school, but have have always loved music and dancing.
Because of my background in physics I sometimes find myself approaching music in a scientific way at times while still enjoying its soul, funk, beauty, and groove.
All children learn to speak their native language
How do children learn to speak their native language? They are constantly encouraged by ‘professionals’ (adults) and practice a great deal.
Practice and feedback are fundamental to learning language and music alike.
Languages have alphabets with letters, music has notes with letters.
You combine letters into words of language and phrases of music.
Books and poetry have style and clarity just as good songs do.
The tempo, intensity, and rhythm all affect the message you deliver in both language and music.
All music might comprise one language. But I would say that some languages are similar while other languages are quite different. In that way, you can think of instruments as individual languages.
Clarinet and saxophone for example are quite similar. Both have reeds and they require similar technique. Some of the fingerings for notes are almost exactly the same (in certain ranges).
Likewise Spanish and Italian are quite similar. They are both in the same family of languages. Just like the clarinet and saxophone are both woodwinds.
The flute is also similar to saxophone, but not as similar as the clarinet. The language equivalent might be to compare Portuguese and French. They belong to the same family, but they don’t have quite as much in common.
Learning saxophone is like learning a language
My native language is English. After that, music could be considered the language I know best as I have been playing music since I was 11.
I have a particular interest in learning new languages.
I studied Spanish for three years in school before exploring it on my own, partly because of my involvement in bands and with dancing.
In 2009 I took a trip to Sri Lanka with my friend and his family. I learned a bit of Sinhala, but not a lot.
In 2014 I have started learning Mandarin Chinese. After a year and a half I can hold about a 15 minute conversation, albeit with many mistakes.
At 18 I started learning German.
I studied it a bit in university and then lived in Germany for about three months.
Before going to Germany, I was learning the language on my own mostly using CDs. It felt like I was learning quite a bit, however, unbeknownst to me, I wasn’t learning to speak the right way.
I lacked feedback.
When I began to speak to Germans, I learned about the many mistakes I didn’t realize I was making.
Immersing myself in the language led me to the point of holding conversations. I ended up getting a minor in German, while majoring in physics. The feedback I got from native speakers was a crucial element of my development with the language.
How I teach saxophone
Teachers have been vital to my process.
I have been fortunate to have some outstanding teachers guide me. Amongst my first teachers were Jim Cook, Gary Stotz, and Todd Clickard. I also took lessons from Kristen Strom and George Young.
A more recent teacher is Gary Meek—one of the most systematic. He has taught me a most effective approach to working on technique. That style was passed on to him from Phil Sobel who learned from Henry Lindeman.
Playing music is the fun part about playing the saxophone, so I teach pieces of songs in videos.
In a few videos I literally show you where to put your fingers using diagrams. That can be helpful if your level of playing saxophone is similar to my level of speaking Sinhala. Step by step helps a lot when you’re unfamiliar with something. After a little while, you want to get to the point where you don’t need to look at diagrams. You want all the fingerings memorized, then you move toward reading music and playing by ear.
In other videos the approach is more to learn music by ear, slowed down and broken into pieces. Learning music by ear is important in sounding better. Reading music is important as well.
Here's what Vijai from the UK has to say
Very impressive the way you teach that (Off Rhythm Report). Actually I was showing this to my wife and told about you, she said we can see you are a good teacher.
Being a physics professor you bring that, maths and everything into this. Another example is the book you suggested to learn music.
—Vijai (UK). Member Saxophone Tribe.
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And you can always ask me a saxophone question.
Here's Amy's experience with SaxStation
I have finally found the time time to sit down and reply to you! I just wanted to thank you so much for all the quick lessons you have sent me.
Even though I didn’t reply/comment on them, I still took my time to view them and I’m glad I did, especially the lesson on the mouthpiece position/embouchure.
My sound quality improved almost instantly. Needless to say, everybody in my band (including my director!!) was very impressed. Thank you once again!